Transporting droplets easily and reliably is important in many microfluidic applications. While this can be done using electric fields, those fields can impact biological characteristics researchers are trying to measure. As an alternative, a group of researchers have developed the concept of “mechanowetting,” a technique that uses surface tension forces to hold droplets on a traveling wave.
Now visually, it’s a bit tough to see what’s going on here. In the animations, it looks like the droplets are just sticking to a moving surface, but that’s an illusion. The surface the droplet is sitting on is fixed and unmoving. It’s a thin silicone film that covers a ridged conveyor belt. The belt underneath can (and does) move. This creates a traveling wave. Instead of that wave simply passing beneath the droplet, it triggers an internal flow and restoring force that helps the drop follow the wave. The effect is strong enough that small droplets are even able to climb up vertical walls or stick upside-down. (Image, research, and submission credit: E. de Jong et al.)